The Justice Department reached an agreement today with Conn Credit I, LP, Conn Appliances, Inc. and Conn’s, Inc. (Conn’s), to resolve allegations that they violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by charging at least 184 servicemembers excess interest on their purchases.
Conn’s, a furniture, mattress, electronics, and appliance store chain headquartered in the Woodlands, Texas, has retail stores in over 130 locations in at least 14 states. This is the Justice Department’s first SCRA case against a consumer retail store.
The SCRA provides financial and housing protections and benefits to military members as they enter active duty. One of the SCRA’s benefits requires creditors to reduce the interest rate on financial obligations, including retail installment contracts, to six percent if certain conditions are met. Under the agreement, Conn’s must hire an independent consultant, who will determine if any previously unidentified servicemembers were overcharged interest. Conn’s must refund all overcharged interest that it has not already refunded and pay an additional $500 to each affected servicemember. Conn’s must also make a $50,000 payment to the United States.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, resolves a suit filed today by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
“Servicemembers sacrifice their liberty and at times their lives to protect the United States and our people, and the Department of Justice is determined to ensure that they receive all the benefits and rights that Congress provided to them under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We applaud Conn’s for cooperating with our investigation and conducting a self-audit to determine the scope of the problem, for working with the department to comply with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and for agreeing to compensate all the affected servicemembers.”
“It is an honor to protect the legal rights of the members of our armed forces who routinely sacrifice so much for our country,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing the SCRA and will continue to hold companies who violate it accountable.”
The department launched its investigation after receiving a referral from the U.S. Army Staff Judge Advocate at the Oklahoma National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. Upon receiving notice of the department’s investigation, Conn’s conducted a self-audit and found that, between March 2014 and May 2019, in 184 of the 322 accounts where servicemembers had requested the six percent interest rate cap, Conn’s had not granted the full benefit as required by the SCRA. Conn’s voluntarily disclosed these findings to the department and sent remediation checks and credited the accounts of the identified servicemembers.
The department’s enforcement of the SCRA is conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country. Since 2011, the department has obtained over $474 million in monetary relief for over 120,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. For more information about the department’s SCRA enforcement efforts, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil/.
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- Nuclear Waste: Congressional Action Needed to Clarify a Disposal Option at West Valley Site in New YorkBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021The Department of Energy (DOE) has made progress in cleaning up radioactive waste at the site of the West Valley Demonstration Project in New York State. In the 1960s and 1970s, a commercial facility at the site reprocessed spent (used) nuclear fuel into reusable nuclear material—creating various wastes that remained on-site after the facility closed in 1976. Since 2011, DOE has demolished 51 of 55 structures there and disposed of about 1.3 million cubic feet of low-level waste to off-site locations. It has also placed solidified high-level waste into interim on-site storage (see fig.). In addition, DOE has processed for interim on-site storage about 30,000 cubic feet of transuranic waste (which is contaminated with elements that have an atomic number greater than uranium). As of February 2020, DOE reported spending about $3.1 billion on contracted cleanup activities, but it cannot estimate the cleanup's final cost until it decides how it will address the remaining waste. High-Level Waste from the West Valley Demonstration Project in Interim On-Site Storage, March 2017 DOE has been unable to dispose of the high-level and transuranic wastes stored at West Valley because there are no facilities authorized to accept these wastes. DOE has identified two potential options for disposal of the transuranic waste: the federal Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and a commercial facility in Texas. However, the New Mexico facility is authorized to accept only waste from atomic energy defense activities, and DOE does not consider West Valley waste to be from atomic energy defense activities. Regarding the Texas facility, state regulations preclude disposal of the waste there. In 2017, DOE submitted to Congress a report on all disposal options, as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Pursuant to this act, DOE must await action by Congress before making a final decision, and Congress has not yet acted. The West Valley Demonstration Project Act, enacted in 1980, requires DOE to assist with cleanup activities at the site of the nation's only commercial facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The site contained 600,000 gallons of liquid high-level waste, radioactively contaminated structures and soils, and buried radioactive waste. In 2011, DOE began the first phase of its decommissioning plan, which included demolishing above-ground structures and removing contaminated soils. The West Valley Reauthorization Act and the Senate Committee Report No. 116-48 included provisions for GAO to review progress on the cleanup at West Valley. GAO's report examines (1) the status of the cleanup and (2) DOE's options for disposing of the remaining radioactive waste. GAO reviewed DOE's data on cleanup costs and waste volumes and its decommissioning plans, as well as laws, regulations, and policies governing radioactive waste disposal. GAO also interviewed officials from DOE and the state of New York, as well as other stakeholders. Congress should consider taking action to provide a legal option for the disposal of West Valley's transuranic waste. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or BawdenA@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Utah Man Posing As Medical Doctor To Sell Baseless Coronavirus Cure Indicted On Fraud ChargesBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2020Utah resident Gordon H. Pedersen has been indicted for posing as a medical doctor to sell a baseless treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City late last week, Pedersen fraudulently promoted and sold ingestible silver-based products as a cure for COVID-19 despite having no evidence that his products could treat or cure the disease. Pedersen is also alleged to have claimed to be a physician and worn a stethoscope and white lab coat in videos and photos posted on the Internet to further his alleged fraud scheme.[Read More…]
- Department of Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Accounting of Intradepartmental TransactionsBy Sam NewsJanuary 14, 2021The Department of Defense (DOD) has a long-standing material weakness related to intradepartmental transactions. Intradepartmental transactions occur when trading partners within the same department engage in business activities—such as the Department of the Army as a seller and the Department of the Navy as a buyer within DOD. As part of the standard process of preparing department-wide financial statements, intradepartmental transaction amounts are eliminated to avoid overstating accounts for DOD. For the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, DOD eliminated approximately $451 billion of net intradepartmental activity. Auditors continue to report a material weakness related to DOD's processes for recording and reconciling intradepartmental transaction amounts that are necessary to eliminate the transactions and prepare reliable consolidated financial statements. DOD has identified implementation of the Government Invoicing (G-Invoicing) system as its long-term solution to account for and support its intradepartmental activities. In fiscal year 2020, DOD issued a policy requiring all DOD components to use G-Invoicing's General Terms and Conditions (GT&C) functionality for initiating and approving GT&C agreements—a necessary step for using subsequent G-Invoicing functionalities (see figure). GAO found the use of this functionality varied among selected DOD components because of issues such as inconsistency in DOD policies and numerous changes to G-Invoicing system specifications. If DOD components do not implement the GT&C functionality, there is an increased risk of delay in full implementation of G-Invoicing to help remediate the intradepartmental eliminations material weakness. General Terms and Conditions Agreement Process in Government Invoicing Although DOD has identified G-Invoicing as its long-term solution, GAO found that DOD has not implemented an overall department-wide strategy to address its intradepartmental eliminations material weakness in the short term. Further, GAO found that while DOD issued a department-wide policy in May 2019 with new requirements for reconciling intradepartmental transactions, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and selected DOD components have not updated their policies or implemented several of the new requirements. Without a short-term strategy that includes identifying the causes of issues and consistently implementing department-wide policies across DOD, DOD's efforts to resolve differences in intradepartmental transaction amounts—including its efforts in the long term—will likely be inefficient and ineffective. Since 1995, GAO has designated DOD financial management as high risk because of pervasive weaknesses in its financial management systems, controls, and reporting. DOD's long-standing intradepartmental eliminations material weakness reflects DOD's inability to adequately record and reconcile its intradepartmental transactions, and has affected DOD's ability to prepare auditable financial statements. GAO was asked to evaluate DOD's process for performing intradepartmental eliminations. This report examines the extent to which DOD has (1) identified and taken steps to address issues related to intradepartmental eliminations and (2) established and implemented policies and procedures related to intradepartmental eliminations. GAO interviewed DOD officials about intradepartmental eliminations processes and reviewed DOD policies and procedures to identify the extent to which procedures have been implemented to record and reconcile intradepartmental transactions. GAO is making five recommendations to DOD, including that DOD should (1) take actions to ensure that its components follow its policy for using G-Invoicing's GT&C functionality and (2) develop short-term solutions that address causes for trading partner differences before G-Invoicing is fully implemented. DOD agreed with all five recommendations and cited actions to address them. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Michigan Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the IRS and to Steal Crash Reports from the Detroit Police DepartmentBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020A Birmingham, Michigan, resident pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the IRS and to steal from an organization receiving federal funds, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.[Read More…]
- Offshore Wind Energy: Planned Projects May Lead to Construction of New Vessels in the U.S., but Industry Has Made Few Decisions amid UncertaintiesBy Sam NewsDecember 8, 2020Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Emergency Responder Safety: States and DOT Are Implementing Actions to Reduce Roadside CrashesBy Sam NewsDecember 17, 2020Move Over laws vary by state but generally require motorists to move over a lane or slow down, or both, when approaching emergency response vehicles with flashing lights stopped on the roadside. U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data provide limited information on whether crashes involved violations of these state laws, but the agency is taking steps to collect additional data. For instance, NHTSA's 2018 data show 112 fatalities from crashes involving emergency vehicles, representing 0.3 percent of all traffic fatalities that year, but these data cannot be used to definitively identify which crashes involved a violation of Move Over laws. NHTSA is proposing updates to the data that it encourages states to include on crash report forms to better identify crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, and plans to convene an expert panel and initiate a pilot project to study further data improvements. Selected state officials reported that they have taken actions to improve public education and enforcement of Move Over laws but still face challenges in both areas. Such actions include education through various forms of media and regional coordination among states to conduct targeted enforcement of Move Over laws within their respective borders during the same time period. State officials cited raising public awareness as the most prevalent challenge, as motorists may not know the law exists or its specific requirements. Variation in the requirements of some Move Over laws—such as for which emergency vehicles motorists are required to move over—may contribute to challenges in educating the public about these laws, according to state officials. DOT has taken actions and is planning others to help improve emergency responder roadside safety. NHTSA helps states promote public awareness of Move Over laws by developing and disseminating marketing materials states can use to develop their own traffic safety campaigns. NHTSA also administers funding that states can use for public awareness activities or enforcement initiatives related to emergency responder safety. FHWA has coordinated with a network of stakeholders across the country to train emergency responders on traffic incident management best practices. Finally, in response to congressional direction, NHTSA officials are planning several research efforts intended to enhance emergency responder safety, including studies on motorist behaviors that contribute to roadside incidents and technologies that protect law enforcement officials, first responders, roadside crews and other responders. General Requirements of Move Over Laws for Motorists on a Multiple Lane Roadway Police, fire, medical, towing, and other responders risk being killed or injured by passing vehicles when responding to a roadside emergency. To protect these vulnerable workers and improve highway safety, all states and the District of Columbia have enacted Move Over laws. GAO was asked to review issues related to Move Over laws and emergency responder roadside safety. This report: (1) examines data NHTSA collects on crashes involving violations of Move Over laws, (2) describes selected states' actions and challenges related to Move Over laws, and (3) describes DOT efforts to improve emergency responder roadside safety. GAO analyzed NHTSA's 2018 crash data, which were the latest data available; reviewed federal and state laws and regulations, and DOT initiatives to improve emergency responder roadside safety; reviewed state reports to DOT; and interviewed NHTSA and FHWA officials, traffic safely and law enforcement officials in seven selected states, and stakeholders from traffic safety organizations and occupational groups, such as the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. GAO selected states based on a variety of factors, including traffic fatality rates per vehicle mile traveled and recommendations from stakeholders. DOT provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or RepkoE@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Department of Justice Awards $16 Million in Grants to Advance Community Policing Efforts and Provide Active Shooter Training to First Responders Across the CountryBy Sam NewsSeptember 9, 2020The Department of [Read More…]
- Owner of Seafood Processor Sentenced to Prison for Tax EvasionBy Sam NewsJanuary 8, 2021A Rhode Island man was sentenced to three years in prison today for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Aaron L. Weisman for the District of Rhode Island, and Special Agent in Charge Kristina O’Connell of IRS Criminal Investigation.[Read More…]
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- Owner of Bitcoin Exchange Sentenced to Prison for Money LaunderingBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021A Bulgarian national who was convicted by a federal jury for his role in a transnational and multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud American victims was sentenced today to 121 months in prison.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Files Enforcement Action Against Bain& Company As Part of Its Investigation Into Visa Inc’s Proposed Acquisition of Plaid IncBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020Today, the Department of Justice filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to enforce Bain & Company’s compliance with the department’s Civil Investigative Demand (CID).[Read More…]
- List Brokerage Firm Pleads Guilty To Facilitating Elder Fraud SchemesBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2020Connecticut list brokerage firm Macromark Inc. pleaded guilty on Friday to knowingly providing lists of potential victims to fraudulent mass-mailing schemes, the Department of Justice announced. The fraudulent schemes tricked consumers into paying fees for falsely promised cash prizes and purportedly personalized “psychic” services. Thousands of consumers lost millions of dollars to the schemes.[Read More…]
- Former Deputy Jailer Sentenced to 48 Months for Violating the Civil Rights of an InmateBy Sam NewsAugust 17, 2020A former Shelby County Deputy Jailer, William Anthony Carey, 31, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gregory F. VanTatenhove to serve 48 months in federal prison for violating the civil rights of an inmate in his custody.[Read More…]
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- American Darknet Vendor and Costa Rican Pharmacist Charged with Narcotics and Money Laundering ViolationsBy Sam NewsAugust 4, 2020A dual U.S.-Costa Rican citizen and a Costa Rican citizen, both of whom reside in Costa Rica, were indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for their illegal sales of opioids on the darknet.[Read More…]
- Federal Oil and Gas Revenue: Actions Needed to Improve BLM’s Royalty Relief PolicyBy Sam NewsOctober 6, 2020In reaction to falling domestic oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a temporary policy in spring 2020 for oil and gas royalty relief. The policy aimed to prevent oil and gas wells from being shut down in way that could lead to permanent losses of recoverable oil and gas. During March through June 2020, BLM gave companies the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the royalty rates for certain oil and gas leases on federal lands. BLM approved reductions from 12.5 percent of total revenue on oil and gas sold from those leases to an average of less than 1 percent for a period of 60 days. However, BLM did not establish in advance that royalty relief was needed to keep applicants' wells operating, according to BLM officials. BLM also did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government. By evaluating the extent to which the policy met BLM's objective of preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources–and likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief that provides a fair return to the government, should the agency decide to consider such relief in the future. BLM officials told GAO that BLM state offices implementing the temporary policy for royalty relief made inconsistent decisions about approving applications for relief because the temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making. The officials added that their state offices did not have recent experience in processing applications for oil and gas royalty relief. Several of the officials had never received or processed royalty relief applications. In addition, GAO found that ongoing guidance for processing royalty relief decisions—within BLM's Fees, Rentals and Royalties Handbook , last revised in 1995—also does not contain sufficient instructions for approving royalty relief. For example, the handbook does not address whether to approve applications in cases where the lease would continue to be uneconomic, even after royalty relief. As a result, some companies that applied for royalty relief were treated differently, depending on how BLM officials in their state interpreted the policy and guidance. In particular, officials from two state offices told GAO they denied royalty relief to applicants because the applicants could not prove that royalty relief would enable their leases to operate profitably. However, two other state offices approved royalty relief in such cases. The fifth state office denied both of the applications it received for other reasons. BLM's existing royalty relief guidance did not address this issue, and BLM's temporary policy did not supply sufficient detail to facilitate uniform decision-making in these situations. BLM's directives manual states that BLM should provide BLM employees with authoritative instructions and information to implement BLM programs and support activities. Until BLM updates the royalty relief guidance, BLM cannot ensure that future relief decisions will be made efficiently and equitably across the states and provide a fair return to the federal government. BLM manages the federal government's onshore oil and gas program with the goals of facilitating safe and responsible energy development while providing a fair return for the American taxpayer. In April 2020, oil and gas producers faced financial challenges from a drop in demand for oil during the COVID-19 pandemic. If oil and gas prices decline, it places financial stress on oil and gas companies, thereby increasing bankruptcies and the risk of wells being shut down. BLM developed a temporary policy to provide oil and gas companies relief from royalties that they owe to the federal government when they sell oil and gas produced on federal lands. This testimony discusses (1) BLM's development of the temporary policy for royalty relief and what is known about the policy's effects, and (2) BLM's implementation of this policy across relevant states. To do this work, GAO reviewed BLM documents; analyzed royalty data; and interviewed BLM officials from headquarters and the five BLM state offices with jurisdiction over states that account for 94 percent of royalties from oil and gas production on federal lands. GAO is making two recommendations. BLM should (1) evaluate the effects of its temporary royalty relief policy and use the results to inform its ongoing royalty relief program, and (2) update its guidance to provide consistent policies for royalty relief. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Northern Alabama Doctor and Practice Manager Convicted for Conspiring to Unlawfully Distribute OpioidsBy Sam NewsDecember 16, 2020A Northern Alabama doctor and her husband, who also served as her practice manager, pleaded guilty today for their roles in unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances while the doctor was absent from the clinic.[Read More…]
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- Time and Attendance: Agencies Generally Compiled Data on Misconduct, and Reported Using Various Internal Controls for MonitoringBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2020Agencies compiled a variety of data on time and attendance misconduct and fraud. Specifically, 22 of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act) had some data on instances of time and attendance misconduct—including potential fraud—from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, because agencies tracked data differently, the data could not be aggregated across the 22 agencies (see table). The remaining two agencies reported that they did not compile misconduct data agency-wide but began using systems to collect this data in fiscal year 2020. Scope of Agency Data on Time and Attendance Misconduct for Fiscal Years 2015–2019 Level of data compiled; number of years included Number of agencies Data compiled 22 Agency-wide data; all 5 years included 13 Agency-wide data; less than 5 years of data 5 Component-level data; all 5 years included 4 Data not compiled 2 Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-640 Most (19 of 24) agency Inspectors General (IG) reported that they substantiated five or fewer allegations of time and attendance misconduct or fraud over the 5-year period. In total, these IGs substantiated 100 allegations, ranging from zero substantiated allegations at six agencies to more than 10 at four agencies. IGs stated that they might not investigate allegations for several reasons, including resource constraints and limited financial impact. In addition, 20 of 24 agencies reported that they considered fraud risks in payroll or time and attendance, either through assessments of these functions, or as part of a broader agency risk management process, including their annual agency financial reports. Also, 14 of 15 agencies that reported a risk level determined that time and attendance fraud risk was low once they accounted for existing controls. Agencies reported using various internal controls, including technologies, to monitor time and attendance, which can also prevent and detect misconduct. According to agencies and IGs, first-line supervisors have primary responsibility for monitoring employee time and attendance. Additional internal controls include policies, procedures, guidance, and training. Agencies also reported using controls built into their timekeeping system to provide reasonable assurance that time and attendance information is recorded completely and accurately. These controls include requiring supervisory approval of timecards, and using time and attendance system reports to review abnormal reporting. According to agencies and stakeholders GAO spoke with, technology for monitoring time and attendance can help prevent and detect fraud, but may not help when an employee is intent on circumventing controls. Technology alone, they said, cannot prevent fraud. Agencies and IGs also reported using a mix of other technologies to assess allegations of time and attendance misconduct, such as badge-in and -out data, video surveillance, network login information, and government-issued routers. However, agency and IG officials also stated that these technologies have limitations. For example, many of the technologies may not account for when an employee is in training or at an off-site meeting. The federal government is the nation's biggest employer, with about 2.1 million non-postal civilian employees. Misconduct is generally considered an action by an employee that impedes the efficiency of the agency's service or mission. Fraud involves obtaining something of value through willful misrepresentation. In 2018, GAO reported that, on average, less than 1 percent of the federal workforce each year is formally disciplined for misconduct—of which time and attendance misconduct is a subcomponent. Misconduct can hinder an agency's efforts to achieve its mission, and fraud poses a significant risk to the integrity of federal programs and erodes public trust in government. GAO was asked to review agencies' efforts to prevent and address time and attendance misconduct, including fraud. This report describes 1) what is known about the extent of time and attendance misconduct and potential fraud across the 24 CFO Act agencies, and 2) controls and technologies these agencies reported using to monitor employee time and attendance. GAO collected misconduct data from the 24 CFO Act agencies and their IGs. GAO also collected information on fraud risk reporting but did not independently assess agencies' fraud risk. Using a semi-structured questionnaire, GAO obtained information on controls and technologies that agencies reported using to monitor time and attendance and any challenges associated with their use. For more information, contact Chelsa Kenney Gurkin at (202) 512-2964 or email@example.com, or Vijay A. D'Souza at (202) 512-6240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Colorado Man Convicted of Production, Transportation, and Possession of Child PornographyBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020An Englewood, Colorado, resident was convicted today after a three-day jury trial on six child exploitation offenses, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer of the Western District of Texas.[Read More…]
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- Co-Owner of Puerto Rican Online Aquarium Business Pleads Guilty to Two Lacey Act Felonies and Export Smuggling for Illicit Trafficking of Protected Reef CreaturesBy Sam NewsNovember 9, 2020A resident of San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty today to export smuggling and two felony violations of the Lacey Act for collecting, purchasing, falsely labeling, and shipping protected marine invertebrate species as part of an effort to subvert Puerto Rican law designed to protect corals and other reef species, the Department of Justice announced.[Read More…]
- Fair Labor Standards Act: Observations on the Effects of the Home Care RuleBy Sam NewsOctober 19, 2020In response to the Department of Labor's Home Care Rule—which extended Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime protections to more home care workers—some states made changes in their Medicaid programs, according to studies and GAO interviews with stakeholders and selected state officials. Many stakeholders said the rule led some states to limit home care workers' hours in their Medicaid programs to avoid overtime costs. For example, in Oregon, newly hired home care workers provided through Medicaid were generally limited to 40 hours per week, according to state documentation. Some states also budgeted additional funds for overtime pay. In addition, according to a few stakeholder groups, some states changed service delivery in their Medicaid programs, for example, by discontinuing services such as live-in care. In contrast, several stakeholders said some states did not make any major changes to their Medicaid programs' home care services. Provider agencies, workers, and consumers experienced changes after the Home Care Rule took effect. Specifically, some provider agencies restricted workers' hours to limit overtime costs, though this can result in the need to hire more workers, leading to increased costs of recruiting, training, and scheduling, according to several stakeholders. GAO's analysis of national survey data found that home care workers, when compared to occupations with similar education and training requirements, were more likely to work full-time but did not earn significantly higher earnings following the Home Care Rule (see figure). Many stakeholders GAO spoke with described ongoing challenges consumers face in obtaining home care services, such as difficulty finding workers to hire. Estimated Median Weekly Earnings of Employed Workers, 2010 through 2019 Note: The margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level are within plus or minus 7.2 percent of the estimate itself. Employment in home care is projected to grow nearly 40 percent over the next decade to meet demand from an increasing population of older adults and people with disabilities. Home care workers help those who need assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, or bathing. State Medicaid programs may allow home care for eligible individuals as an alternative to institutional care. The Department of Labor's (DOL) Home Care Rule, which went into effect in 2015, extended FLSA protections to more home care workers. GAO was asked to review the implementation and effects of the Home Care Rule. This report examines what is known about (1) changes states made to their Medicaid programs in response to the Home Care Rule; and (2) the Home Care Rule's effect on home care provider agencies, workers, and consumers. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed 2010 through 2019 national survey data on workers' hours and wages; interviewed stakeholders from 15 organizations that represent the different groups affected, DOL officials, and home care program officials from three states selected based on variation in their Medicaid programs and minimum wage levels; and reviewed studies on state strategies to implement the Home Care Rule. For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at (617) 788-0534 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Justice Department Requires Divestiture In Order For Anheuser-Busch To Acquire Craft Brew AllianceBy Sam NewsSeptember 18, 2020The Department of Justice announced today that it is requiring Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (ABI), its wholly-owned subsidiary Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC (AB Companies), and Craft Brew Alliance Inc. (CBA) to divest CBA’s entire Kona brand business in the state of Hawaii and to license to the acquirer the Kona brand in Hawaii in order for AB Companies, a minority shareholder in CBA, to proceed with its proposed acquisition of the remaining shares of CBA. The department has approved PV Brewing Partners, LLC as the acquirer. The proposed settlement will maintain competition in the beer industry in Hawaii benefitting consumers.[Read More…]
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- Maryland Man Pleads Guilty to Submitting False Claim to Steal Funds Intended for Afghanistan ReconstructionBy Sam NewsDecember 4, 2020A Maryland man pleaded guilty today to filing a false claim for his role in a scheme to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars in State Department funds to his own use.[Read More…]
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- COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted ActionsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- DHS Employee Morale: Some Improvements Made, but Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Employee EngagementBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and each of its major components face the same key drivers of employee engagement—as measured by the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (OPM FEVS)—as the rest of the federal government (see table). Higher scores on the OPM FEVS indicate that an agency has the conditions that lead to higher employee engagement, a component of morale. Key Drivers of Employee Engagement across the Federal Government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and within Each DHS Component Agency DHS has implemented department-wide employee engagement initiatives, including efforts to support DHS employees and their families. Additionally, DHS's major operational components, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, among others, have developed annual action plans to improve employee engagement. However, DHS has not issued written guidance on action planning and components do not consistently include key elements in their plans, such as outcome-based performance measures. Establishing required action plan elements through written guidance and monitoring the components to ensure they use measures to assess the results of their actions to adjust, reprioritize, and identify new actions to improve employee engagement would better position DHS to make additional gains in this area. In addition, approval from the DHS Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and component leadership for these plans would help ensure department-wide commitment to improving employee engagement. DHS has faced challenges with low employee morale and engagement—an employee's sense of purpose and commitment—since it began operations in 2003. DHS has made some progress in this area, but data from the 2019 OPM FEVS show that DHS continues to rank lowest among similarly-sized federal agencies. GAO has reported that increasing employee engagement can lead to improved agency performance, and it is critical that DHS do so given the importance of its missions. GAO was asked to review DHS employee morale. This report addresses (1) drivers of employee engagement at DHS and (2) the extent that DHS has initiatives to improve employee engagement and ensures effective engagement action planning. To answer these objectives, GAO used regression analyses of 2019 OPM FEVS data to identify the key drivers of engagement at DHS. GAO also reviewed component employee engagement action plans and met with officials from DHS and component human capital offices as well as unions and employee groups. GAO is making three recommendations. DHS OCHCO should, in its anticipated written guidance, establish the elements required in employee engagement action plans and the approval process for these plans. OCHCO should also monitor components' action planning to ensure they review and assess the results of their actions to improve employee engagement. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Chris Currie at (404) 679-1875 or CurrieC@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Malta National DayBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020
- Additional Restrictions on the Issuance of Visas for People’s Republic of China Officials Engaged in Human Rights AbusesBy Sam NewsDecember 21, 2020
- Colorado Man Sentenced to Prison for Biodiesel Tax Credit FraudBy Sam NewsOctober 28, 2020A Colorado resident was sentenced to 15 months in prison yesterday for his role in a biodiesel tax credit fraud scheme, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.[Read More…]
- Syria Sanctions Designations on the Anniversary of Assad’s Attack Against the People of Douma, SyriaBy Sam NewsNovember 9, 2020
- Developer Agrees to Mitigate Impacts to Streams and WetlandsBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2021A developer and his companies have agreed to effectuate $900,000 in compensatory mitigation, preserve undisturbed riparian areas, conduct erosion-control work on streams, and be subject to a prohibitory injunction to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on property north of Houston, Texas, the Justice Department announced today.[Read More…]
- Imperial Pacific International and MCC International Saipan Executives Indicted on Federal ChargesBy Sam NewsAugust 4, 2020Three executives from Imperial Pacific International (IPI) and MCC International Saipan have been indicted on federal criminal charges, including Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) conspiracy, harboring illegal aliens, unlawful employment of aliens, and international promotional money laundering announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Shawn N. Anderson for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.[Read More…]
- Former Bureau of Prisons Corrections Officer Sentenced for Sexually Assaulting Two Women on Multiple Occasions and Lying to InvestigatorsBy Sam NewsAugust 19, 2020Adrian L. Stargell, 39, a former Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Corrections Officer who worked as an Education Specialist at the FCI-Aliceville facility in Aliceville, Alabama, was sentenced today in federal court in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to 42 months in prison and three years supervised release.[Read More…]
- U.S. Army Soldier Arrested for Attempting to Assist ISIS to Conduct Deadly Ambush on U.S. TroopsBy Sam NewsJanuary 19, 2021The Justice Department, along with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and U.S. Army Counterintelligence, announced today the arrest of a private first class in the U.S. Army, on federal terrorism charges based on Bridges’ alleged efforts to assist ISIS to attack and kill U.S. soldiers in the Middle East.[Read More…]
- Former Raytheon Engineer Sentenced for Exporting Sensitive Military Related Technology to ChinaBy Sam NewsNovember 18, 2020Today, Wei Sun, 49, a Chinese national and naturalized citizen of the United States, was sentenced to 38 months in prison by District Court Judge Rosemary Marquez. Sun previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).[Read More…]
- Medicare Advantage Provider to Pay $6.3 Million to Settle False Claims Act AllegationsBy Sam NewsNovember 16, 2020Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, formerly known as Group Health Cooperative (GHC), agreed to pay $6,375,000 to resolve allegations that it submitted invalid diagnoses to Medicare for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and received inflated payments from Medicare as a result, the Justice Department announced today. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan is headquartered in Oakland, California.[Read More…]
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- Statement by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Pakistani Proceedings Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel PearlBy Sam NewsDecember 29, 2020Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen has released the following statement:[Read More…]
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- Remarks by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the 19th Anniversary of the September 11th Terrorist AttacksBy Sam NewsSeptember 11, 2020Thank you, Lee. The [Read More…]